Maple sugaring--obtaining sugar and syrup from maple trees--is primarly a North American phenomenon. Although maple trees (species Acer) are found pretty much throughout the world, only North America has sugar-producing species (especially sugar maple Acer saccharum and black maple Acer nigrum), combined with the right mix of cool nights and warm days that generate enough sap to make sugaring worthwhile.
In general, maple sap collecting occurs in the early spring months of the year (February-April). Sap is produced when the trees experience temperature fluctuations around the freezing mark and there are no leaves on the tree. Although sap does flow in the late fall, spring sap is sweeter (that is, it has an increased content of soluble sugars), and the fall's decreasing temperatures can damage equipment: frost-heave has been known to shove spouts right out from the tree bole.
Maple Sugaring Controversy
The history of maple sugaring has a bit of a controversy, at least in archaeological circles. Basically, some archaeologists and some ethnohistorians disagree about whether tapping maple trees for sugar was practiced by Native Americans before the Europeans landed on American shores.
The controversy is part history and part archaeology, and since that is my favorite kind of story, this photo essay on Maple Sugaring will feature both sides of the issue.
A bibliography of Maple Sugaring sources has been collected for this project.